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Learning Theory in the Classroom: Application & Trends

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  • 0:05 Student Learning
  • 0:25 Behaviorist Models
  • 1:21 Behaviorist Models in…
  • 2:35 Cognitive Learning Theories
  • 4:04 Cognitive Learning in…
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn about some of the work done by researchers in the areas of behaviorism and constructivism. We'll define the major tenets of some educational theories and look at practical ways to apply them in the classroom.

Student Learning

Learning theories are research-based ideas about how students learn. Theories combine what is known about genetics, development, environment, motivation, and emotions to explain how students acquire, store, and apply knowledge. Let's take a look at some learning theories and how to apply them to the classroom.

Behaviorist Models

What is behaviorism and why does it matter? Behaviorism includes the theories of educational psychology that focus on the environmental factors influencing how students learn.

Ivan Pavlov's classical conditioning was perhaps the first behaviorist theory to emerge. Pavlov recognized that a neutral stimulus associates with a reflex response through conditioning. For example, when a teacher claps out a pattern, students repeat the pattern while focusing their attention to the teacher.

From Edward Thorndike's work, three laws of learning surfaced. The Law of Effect proposes that pleasurable consequences lead to repetition, while unpleasant outcomes extinguish behavior. The Law of Readiness explains that learners will be resistant to learning until they are ready and the `Law of Exercise states that what is practiced strengthens, while what is not practiced becomes weaker.

Behaviorist Models in the Classroom

A teacher can apply the Law of Effect by engaging students in hands-on, inquiry-based, and relevant learning activities, which provide intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic rewards, like trinkets, praise, and recognition are motivating but can actually reduce engagement over time. Providing students with unpleasant consequence for failure, such as missing out of a preferred activity when homework is not completed, is negatively extrinsic. If a student makes the choice that he or she enjoys the defiant feeling associated with not meeting the teacher's expectations, it is negatively intrinsic.

The Law of Readiness supports some cognitive learning theories that we'll discuss shortly, but in effect, if a student is not developmentally ready to learn, he or she will not become ready through punishment or rewards. To use the Law of Readiness, a teacher should allow a student to learn at his or her own pace.

Using the Law of Exercise in a classroom requires a teacher to help students practice skills so that the skill is reinforced. In other words, teaching a concept briefly in September will not fully prepare that student for the state test in April. Students need to continually practice and build on the skills they are taught.

Cognitive Learning Theories

Current educational trends tend to favor cognitive learning theories that support the constructivist classroom. Constructivism is the belief that students learn on a personal level based on how prior knowledge is connected to new information.

The first researcher to study cognition in children was Jean Piaget. In addition to his work on the developmental stages of cognition, Piaget also introduced the concepts of assimilation and accommodation.

Assimilation and accommodation are the ways students resolve cognitive dissonance when presented with new information. To understand assimilation and accommodation, you first need to understand schema. Most of the time, when we receive new information, it meshes with our existing schema, which is our framework for understanding. Schema are the categories in your brain where information is sorted, similar to the way the hard drive of your computer stores information in files. However, there are times when the new information doesn't work with existing schema. In this instance, the learner must make accommodations to their schema in order to process new learning.

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